Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Funerals and Good Wine

Off from work today and out the door very early to attend an uncle's funeral in Kentucky. Nice to see some relatives that I haven't seen since the last family funeral. They all looked older, but then of course I'm preserved by the wine. There was a nice discussion with my wine loving aunt about her trip to Italy and we made plans for a couple of Italian dinners in the near future, one here in Ohio and the other in Kentucky.

I arrived home without having stopped for lunch so I was quite hungry when dinner time arrived. There were some very large shrimp in the fridge and some fresh pasta as well. The shrimp were combined with lots of garlic, shallots, olive oil, a large dose of red pepper flakes and a little butter in a large skillet. I threw in a chopped tomato, a pinch of Spanish saffron and some white wine. When everything reduced a little I stirred in a tablespoon of heavy cream, some salt and black pepper, and some parsley. Then we tossed in the cooked tagliatelle. A couple of crusty roles and it was a great ending to the day.

With the heat from the pepper I opened a 375 ml bottle of 2006 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett. We already had a spicy Italian meal with a Spanish accent so I saw no harm in adding a German touch. The wine was tart with ripe apples and lime in the nose, wonderful acidity and just enough sweetness to marry perfectly with the spiciness of the pasta. This wine is a touch drier than the 2005 version and not quite as long in the finish, but it is a very good wine in its own right. It is probably closer to a true Kabinett style than the 2005 since it is drier. Nice wine.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chicken Every Sunday and Chardonnay

There is a large pot of moss roses on the front step by the door and they are in full bloom. As I was growing up my mother always had moss roses on the front step, and it's a tradition that is easy to continue as witnessed the photo on the left.

We are back to the stormy season here in Ohio as we had a major storm roll through last evening and another came through this afternoon. Last night I was all set to grill some lamb rib chops when the storm began so they were done inside.

The chicken that was supposed to go on the grill went in the oven today because a storm rolled through just I was lighting the grill. The bird was brined, air dried and rubbed with rosemary, thyme, and lavender before going in a hot oven. There was some fresh pasta to go with some just made pesto and a little store bought corn salad. One of the two large pots of basil on the patio is producing a prodigious amount of leaves and while I wait on the local tomatoes to come to market in another month or so I'm using basil for just about everything. The second pot of basil is running a month behind the first so that it will produce when the tomatoes are ready.

The chicken was wonderful and with it we opened a wine just coming into the market place.
Meranda-Nixon is another Ohio winery that is helping revive the Ohio River Valley appellation for wine. I have tasted several of their wines but the 2007 chardonnay was new. They make a traminette that is very drinkable and they just released their first cabernet, a 2006, that shows some promise. The rest of their wines are on the sweet side and that doesn't appeal to me, though they seem well made for what they intend to be.

My initial reaction was that this was a mediocre wine. But with the chicken it was young, fresh, alive, and simple, tasting of tart white grapes and Granny Smith apples. There was a small sweet spot in the mid palate, but the finish was dry and crisp. This is a wine that's not trying to be anything but young and refreshing. Oak and butter? Not a hint. It was almost a chardonnay version of a German halb-trocken. By itself it was fine, but with food it came alive. A good, honest wine for $12.

The appellation on the wine is "American" meaning the grapes came from one or more of the 50 states. Let's hope they grow some or more chardonnay in their vineyard and continue to make this "summer" style wine in an estate version.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Pleasant day here yesterday for the first day of summer, 81 degrees and little humidity. Last night the temperature was in the upper 50 degree range so the air conditioner was off except for about an hour or so in the evening.

The local market had excellent, dry aged ribeye steaks on sale so I fired up the grill, rubbed the steak with a anchovy paste, sprinkled it with fresh pepper and tossed it on the grill. There was some leftover pasta and a small salad.

The wine was a pleasant surprise, a Chateau des Capitans 2005 Julienas. It was medium in color and at the stage where it is going from Beaujolais purple to more of a garnet. The fruit was a little more mature than the up front grape tastes so there were some dark cherries in the mix as well. All that carried over into the taste, along with good acidity and just a touch of ripe tannin and earth. There was a wonderful light finish and feel to the wine, making it a perfect summer red. It was great with the steak and with the 12.5% alcohol I could have more than a glass. I actualy had three.

It was a surprise becaue it is distributed by Georges Dubouef, though it was made and bottled at the chateau. Duboeuf sells some sound, solid wines but this seemed a step above what I am used to from him. For $14 a very god wine.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Simple Things

Thanks to the cool weather in May this year the strawberry season in Ohio was a little behind schedule. In the last week and a half, however, they have come to the market in full force.

For eleven months out of the year we are subjected to California strawberries, but what difference the month or near-month of local berries makes. Unlike their California cousins which are red on the outside and white and sometimes bitter on the inside, the Ohio berries are red to the center. They are totally ripe when they hit the markets, roadside stands and small produce barns. They are what a fresh strawberry should be, sweet and juicy.

The berries pictured here came from a small roadside stand on Saturday, having just come out of the fields and been washed. So far they have been sliced and served atop pancakes with warm maple syrup, dipped in plain yogurt and brown sugar, and tossed on top of some cereal for breakfast this morning. Tonight will be strawberry shortcake night.

For the rest of the year we will make do with, and appreciate the California berries, but for the next week or so we will over indulge in the local ones.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Sadly, Father's Day doesn't mean quite as much now, but I was invited to a cookout today to help some others celebrate the day with hamburgers and bratwurst. With the weather being cloudless, sunny and in the low 80 degree range it seemed to call for a rose'.

The 2007 Artazuri is from the Navarra region of Spain and is 100% Garnacha. I've had a previous bottle and it is full of strawberries and acidity and very little residual sugar. Since it was a pink wine and we hadn't run a picture of a flamingo on the site in some time it seemed like the perfect occasion to take the above photo. Rose's should be about fun.

Later tonight there will be a wee dram of single malt Scottish whisky to end the evening.

For the last twenty or so years that he was alive a bottle of single malt was my gift to my father on Father's Day. It fulfilled several requirements; it was easy to buy, it was very much appreciated, and I always got to spend some time helping him drink it over the course of the following month or two.

About 15 years ago his youngest brother was in town when I arrived with the bottle and he helped us put a dent in it over the course of an evening. When he left to return to northern Ohio he handed me his kids' phone numbers. "Call and explain things to them," he said. "All I ever get from them is socks or ties or things I don't want or need." Ever since then at least one of them has bought him a bottle of single malt for Father's Day. I'll call him tonight while I'm sipping a Lagavulin and we will no doubt exchange a story or two.

A Late Addition
There was a very good 2005 Schug Cellars Chardonnay at today's event but the day was stolen by a 2004 Silverado Solo. This is a varietal Cabernet from a single vineyard in the Stag's Leap area of Napa Valley. Balanced, dark, and full it continued to open an evolve over the afternoon. A very, very good wine that actually showed some restraint.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

2005 Bordeaux

I was running low on every day wine so I made a trip this morning to one of my favorite places for some bargains. They should have warned me that a container of 2005 Bordeaux wines had arrived. Above are the two that I adopted along with the inexpensive wines I went to purchase. Buying in a case lot meant a 10% discount and that was all the false justification I needed to add these two wines to the mixed case

There was a good selection and they are planning a major tasting once the wines settle in from their trip. These were two that had their strongest recommendation. The Chateau De Sales from Pomerol is a wine I am familiar with from previous vintages and has always been consistently good. The Chateau Ferran from Pessac Leognan is a recently restored property that has been getting some great reviews. My taste in Bordeaux seems to run to wines from the Graves and Pessac Leognan area so this one was easy.

I'll be adding a few more moderately priced 2005 Bordeaux, but the prices on the major wines are too high to purchase in any quantity.

And speaking of high prices, the "house" white wine for some time has been the Marques de Caceres at the bargain price of $7 a bottle. The new price is $12 a bottle so the search will be on for a replacement as soon as the current supply is gone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


It's been a hectic week here with all the rain and storms continuing. Fortunately for us in southwest Ohio the major flooding has stayed to the west and northwest of us, though we have had some nasty downpours, including one about two hours ago. If the flooding moves this way it's comforting to live on a hilltop.

Very nice dinner tonight, and quite simple. I marinated a small swordfish steak in fresh rosemary, olive oil, garlic and lemon peel for twenty minutes. It was pan seared over high heat just to brown each side then tossed in a hot oven for another seven minutes. That was just long enough to steam some fresh asparagus. Toss in a toasted slice of garlic bread and it was a meal far beyond its simple preparation.

The wine was very interesting. It was a 2006 Domaine Labbe Abymes from the Savoie region of France. Light and pleasant on the nose it just reeked of limestone. What fruit that was there was tart green grapes, green apples, and citrus peel, but the minerality just shone through. It was crisp on the taste with a definite sweet spot in the middle and then finished with a dry, tart taste. Nice medium length and definitely palate cleansing. The sweet spot in the middle was almost Riesling-esque.

It went down very easily with the swordfish and actually stood up to the asparagus, which really accented that sweet spot. Very interesting wine and for $11 a very good buy.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Italian Wine Rant

According to this article from Decanter there is anther scandal in the Italian wine world, this time involving Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano. This comes on the heels of the still current fuss over some Brunello de Montalcino producers adding grapes other than sangiovese to their mix.

Vino Nobile di Montelpulciano by law must be minimum 70% Sangiovese, with the possible addition of up to 10% of native grape Canaiolo, while the remaining 20% can be any number of varieties cultivated within the Montepulciano growing area including international grapes.
These producers are now accused of adding wine from outside their region to their mix.

As a consumer I don't ask much except that I know exactly what is in a bottle of wine I am drinking. If it's a cabernet sauvignon I'd like to know that. If it's a blend, that's fine. Just tell me. If it's a regional wine then I would like to know that the grapes are from that region. It's one thing when a con artist and fraud like Hardy Rodenstock feels driven to fake old, rare wines for the high end market, but it is quite another when producers of wines I can afford attempt to con me by adding things to their wines that the rules forbid. Add what you want to make your wine better but just tell me.

It's becoming difficult to trust Italian wine makers.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Salmon and Pinot Noir

Two weeks ago at our self described Lobsterfest the four wines opened ranged from very poor to good. Though two of them were delicious with the lobsters they were not stand alone wines or a wines that really made one take notice. One wine, the 2005 Rochioli Chardonnay, was a major disappointment.

The 2004 Rochioli Pinot Noir that we drank with grilled Alaskan Copper River King salmon more than made up for my disappointment in that Rochioli chardonnay. The color was a medium red with some transparency at the edges. On the nose one immediately got cherries and raspberries. The taste was more new world than old world, and was definitely fruit driven as the red fruits really stood out. There was good acid and a very light grip of tannin on the finish. The finish was not long, but it was still very tasty. Nothing about the wine was overdone. Even for an entry level wine from Rochioli they did a good job on this.

That said, the 2003 Calera Mills Vineyard was, in my opinion, as good as California pinot noir gets. The wine was dark to the edges and with one sniff a person could tell that this was a serious wine. The fruit was darker, while suggesting cherries and super ripe raspberries, but it added another dimension with a layer of clean dirt and minerality. Add just a hint of oak and it made one eager to taste this wine. There was one other aroma going on in the nose and wonderful as it was I could not put my finger on what it was. It just added an extra dimension. While linking the winery website I took a minute to read the description of the Mills Vineyard and they suggested that the wine had a hit of cedar and that is exactly what that other aroma was. Not strong but it was definitely cedar or rosemary.

We decanted this one for one hour and that improved each of the above mentioned components. They all carried over to the taste. The wine was ripe without being sweet and there were some wonderful tannins and acidity to balance things out. Throw in a very long finish that gave just a tiny blast of tannin at the end and everyone was eager for a second glass. It cut the richness of the salmon and just added another dimension to the meal. This was an excellent wine and one that makes me happy that there is one more in the cellar. It has several years head of it but may not last past next years Copper River salmon run.

The evening started with two, local Kinkead Ridge wines, a 2006 white Revelation and a 2007 Riesling. The Revelation was tart enough that I tried it with the salmon and liked it as well.

Add in a Farotto Nicoise, full of farro, tomatoes, green beans, tuna, and hard boiled eggs with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing, a small salad, a sweet potato dish and a strawberry, raspberry and blueberry shortcake to end the evening and it was a great day. Good friends, good food and good wine. Life is good.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Copper River Salmon

Big day tomorrow. The U.S. is nearing the end of the Copper River Salmon season in Alaska, all 3 to 4 weeks of it. It is one of the two local food highlights in May and early June, the other being the Lobsterfest discussed previously here. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite. The healthy fat content in Copper River King Salmon is as high as any fish and it makes for an almost decadent meal. At the price it is fetching this year it should be decadent. $40 a pound is quite a bit.

There's a good group getting together tomorrow and the above image is only part of what we will be eating.

Wines? I taking two wines and looking forward to drinking both. First is a 2003 Calera, Mt Harlan, Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir. The second is a 2004 Rochioli Estate Pinot from Sonoma. Both are highly rated (and not inexpensive) and I have been saving them for this meal. The Rochioli is a wine that I picked up at the winery during a visit in May of 2006. It will be interesting to see what wines the others bring to the event.

Details and photos later.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Early this morning I finished The Billionaire's Vinegar, the mystery of the world's most expensive bottle of wine by Benjamin Wallace. I thoroughly enjoyed the book because it brought back a lot of memories. So, this piece is not a review of the book, just some observations and remembrances.

To summarize the story, it is about the "discovery" in Paris of bottles of wine purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson and the subsequent chaos ad hullabaloo surrounding them. The story is a veritable who's who of the wine scene in the 1980's and 1990's, because nearly everyone seems to have been involved in some form or another. Here's a brief list; Hardy Rodenstock, Michael Broadbent, Serena Sutcliffe, Marvin Shanken, Jancis Robinson, Robert Parker, the Forbes family, Georg Riedel, and more winery owners and winemakers than there are wines in my cellar.

At the time this story began I remember following it in the pages of The Wine Spectator and remember most of the events and wine tastings referenced in the book.

As another brief summary, the book tells the story of Hardy Rodenstock, a mysterious German, who claimed to have discovered the Jefferson wines in Paris, and who throughout the 80's seemed to be the one person who could find almost any wine someone with means was willing to pay for. A 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafitte was auctioned by Christie's and purchased by the Forbes family for $156,000.

It took more than 20 years but in the end the wine turned out to be fake, as did a more than significant number of other wines connected to Rodenstock. The book is well written, seemingly well researched, and a fun read.

Decanter Magazine, for which Michael Broadbent has been a long time contributer recently published and article where doubts were raised about the accuracy of the book. I can't comment on that but Broadbent's portrayal in the book in my eyes is not that of a villain, but of someone duped by a con artist. Rodenstock was so good at the scam that he came close to disproving the last part of Abraham Lincoln's adage that you 'can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.' Broadbent reminds me of a kid at Christmas who just knows the next package he opens is going to be the one thing he really and truly wanted on his list of 20+ items. He so wanted to believe the story that he ignored every sign that told him he shouldn't believe it. In short, he comes across as a human with faults, and that really isn't a bad thing, even if he cant seem to admit it.

Rodenstock comes across as the ultimate con artist, and one has to admire the fact that for 20 years he totally fooled a significant number of intelligent people. I had an aversion and a dislike for him when the events were happening, and that same distaste arose again when reading this book, but I have to admit "the con artist was good."

The book is simply a great illustration of excess and the length some people will go to to procure it. It seems that there is not a single person portrayed in this book who would be happy with a decent meal and a nice $20 wine to go with it. I felt that way at time I was reading the glowing articles on the vertical tastings of 100 wines from Chateau Lafitte in the Wine Spectator, and I still feel that way.

I highly recommend the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Dinner

It was a very long week at work trying to get five days worth of effort into four days, thanks to having last Monday off as a holiday. That meant two good meals in one weekend and a lot of relaxing.

I knew going into the weekend that I wanted to fix something to go with the 2007 Kinkead Ridge Riesling that I picked up on Monday at the winery. The wine has 1.2% residual sugar and comes in at less than 12% alcohol by volume, so spicy was what I was thinking.

We ended up with an eight ounce fillet of Alaskan halibut. Needing some spice, I dusted it with ground chipotle pepper, then super heated a small skillet, added some grape seed oil and tossed in the fish - flesh side down. We seared that side for a minute or so, then flipped the fish to skin side down and tossed it in a 450 degree oven for a little better than five minutes.
While the fish was baking I made a tomato, red onion, lime juice, red wine vinegar, cilantro, olive oil and serrano chili sauce; adding less than an eighth of a teaspoon of tomato paste to pick up the flavor of a spring tomato. There was some aged basmati rice cooked in chicken stock to complete the meal.

Halibut has become my white fish of choice in the last couple of years. It is affordable, sweet, environmentally acceptable and it takes to so many sauces that it is truly a versatile fish. In season from March to October it lends itself to a myriad of cooking methods and flavors, yet retains its distinct taste.

Between the fish and the salsa it was a perfect match for the wine. The slight residual sugar in the wine matched well with the finely minced serrano pepper and the low alcohol and crisp acidity just highlighted the sweetness in the halibut. I particularly liked the fire from the serrano with the residual sugar in the wine as they both complimented each other. I only used one serrano and only a very few ribs and seeds, but it was enough to wake up the palate for the wine. A very good pairing.